Brainiac On Banjo #057: Create A Better Universe

You might have missed it – there’s a lot going on these days that sucks all the oxygen out of every room – but we celebrated National Coming Out Day on October 11th. You might have missed this as well: this was the 31st anniversary of the event.

That last bit surprised me, but my personal relationship with the time/space continuum always has been a bit iffy. A quick run through Wiki showed me NCOD is also observed in Ireland, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. It remains slightly controversial, both within the LGBTQ communities and without. That’s because every political activity is controversial, and that’s not entirely bad. Occasionally, people of differing opinions raise some interesting and useful points. Nothing ever pops out of the brainpan fully formed.

This year, our friends at Archie Comics joined in the effort. This is not a surprise: Archie long has been platforming educational issues, and, of course, writer/artist Dan Parent – heir to the Bob Montana chair of outstanding Archie talent – is the creator of Kevin Keller, the first openly gay character in the Archie Universe. That was a big deal in 2010, and it remains a big deal today.

There have been several LGBTQ characters in comics over the past 40 years, and that growth rate is accelerating. As often is the case, the public presence of gay characters in comics has encouraged diversity in our talent pool, and we always need that. But Keller, one of the few characters added to the Archie gang in the past half-century who maintains a major and ongoing presence in the stories, is critical because a good part of Archie’s fanbase consists of younger-than-average readers.

As their hormones begin to wake up, all kids struggle with their sexual identities and that is not an easy process to endure. But I’m sure you can imagine that process is far more difficult for kids whose natural predilections go against the grain of social acceptance. Even the growing acknowledgement of the queer populations has not mitigated the confusion and even self-hatred experienced by these kids.

This is why I believe Kevin Keller is the most important comics character introduced in decades. Archie provides one of the best platforms imaginable to teach kids they are not damned to go through life as a member of the Tod Browning Freaks roadshow, that what they are feeling is legitimate, normal, and supported by a growing majority of straight people.

All of this is on Dan Parent. This real-life hero has taken it another step further by producing a series of Archie comic strips for the It Gets Better Project in honor of National Coming Out Day.

These strips speak for themselves, and as low-key and not-screaming-in-your-face as they are they provide a major and vital service. You can read several of these strips here, as you have seen, and you can go to the website for more.

I would be a jerk if I didn’t point out that my friend and former collaborator Bob Smith inked Dan’s work, as noted on the strips.

My inner fanboy would like to point out that Dan and Bob’s efforts also inure to the benefit of Archie Comics and the entire comics industry. Any such exposure carries with it the potential to expand our audience, and this is a time (as if there hasn’t been one in the past 86 years) when we certainly can use that expansion. But do not infer from this statement that I am suggesting this was the “real” motivation behind Archie’s effort – their track record screams otherwise.

Kudos to all involved. And Dan, please take care. We need you.